Dear Dr. Vanessa: Any Medical Libido Booster for Gals?

photo by Tiago Ribeiro

Every few weeks, Dr. Vanessa Cullins, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, will be answering your questions here. To ask her your own question, click here.

Dear Dr. Vanessa,

Is there a safe, medical way to improve my libido? Is there a Viagra for women? I want to want it, but I just don’t. (I’m married, 40, with a kid.)


Dear Sparkless.,

In the United States, lack of sexual desire is more common in women than in men.  Some surveys in the last 15 years suggest that as many as one out of three women experience it some or most of the time.  The causes can be complex.  Often there is more than one cause.  Here are a few of the possibilities:

  • Situational causes: Many women have too many things to do during the day and are just too tired to entertain sexual fantasy and become aroused.  Challenging stresses at work, in relationships, or in their families can also dampen sexual desire.  Some women find that their potential partners are not very attractive.
  • Psychological causes: Some women have sexual histories that include sex-negative family attitudes, sexual assault, sexually indifferent partners, painful intercourse, or other experiences that can inhibit sexual desire.  Some women suffer from depression, which can reduce sexual desire.
  • Medical causes: Certain medical conditions, like diabetes, or side effects of certain medications, like some depression medicines, can inhibit sexual desire.  (When lack of sexual desire is a side effect of a medication, your health care provider may be able to prescribe an alternative medication.)
  • Hormonal causes: Women may not have enough of one or both of the two key hormones associated with the sex drive in women.  The first is estrogen.  The second is testosterone, which is also associated with the sex drive in men.  Natural or surgical menopause is the most common cause of such hormonal depletion.

Identifying the cause of lack of sexual desire is important to successful treatment.  Start with your current health care provider to evaluate the possible medical or hormonal causes.  To explore other causes and solutions, you could turn to a psychotherapist experienced in sexual issues or to a qualified sex therapist.  The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists has a list of certified sex therapists.  Or your health care provider may be able to give you referrals.

If a woman is postmenopausal and no other causes are found, the first line of treatment is estrogen replacement therapy.  If a woman has sufficient estrogen (for example, if she is premenopausal or if she is postmenopausal and is taking estrogen) and she has no other cause for lack of sexual desire, her physician may suggest trying testosterone supplements — creams, gels, injections, pills, or skin patch.  This therapy has been successful for some postmenopausal women.  More long-term studies are being published about potential benefits for postmenopausal women, but no testosterone product has been specifically FDA-approved to increase a woman’s libido to date.  A few small studies have found testosterone may help premenopausal women, too.   Whether pre- or postmenopausal, there are possible side effects to watch out for.  So you and your doctor want to consider the testosterone alternative carefully.

Whatever the causes, thousands of women have found ways to rejuvenate sexual desire in their lives, and they have found that the effort it takes is very worthwhile.

Best wishes for finding a solution and for continuing good sexual health,

Planned Parenthood

Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, MBA, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America.

Say Something

8 Comments on "Dear Dr. Vanessa: Any Medical Libido Booster for Gals?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

Lady, thanks for bringing Wellbutrin up. For those, like myself, whose depression symptoms include(d) lack of libido, this medication could help out. Of course, it isn’t the best way to boost libido for all.

Madamoiselle L
Camelia, I asked my GYN for testosterone for that very problem. He gave me Viagra, instead, I think I am going to basically insist on some testosterone the next time I see him. The Viagra is too damn expensive, and you have to take it an hour before you have sex, (and we don’t usually think about it that far in advance, it just happens. We also make love a LOT in the morning, My Man gets up VERY early, I’d have to set my alarm for, like 3:00 AM to take the damn blue pill at the right time.… Read more »

Testosterone helps me have orgasms more easily. After I started going through menopause, it seemed to take forever to reach orgasm. Sensation in the clitoris seemed be down 100-fold. Testosterone brought me back to pre-menstrual sensitivity.

I was in the same boat recently (married, 46, 3 kids), use to be up for it all the time when I was younger, then kids, etc happened, and libido went out the window. I think part of the problem is that we stop thinking about sex, whereas men fantasize about it frequently. Strange but true: I found that once I started thinking about sex again, I started wanting to have it again (a lot!), and I did this by reading (brace yourself)romance novels. I’m a former English major, and previously had nothing but scorn for books like those those,… Read more »
Madamoiselle L
From what my personal GYN said to me, Viagra is only prescribed for women who HAVE a healthy libido, but are having trouble reaching orgasm. It works for some, not for others. It seems to only work for this problem when women have normal female levels of testosterone, as well. As others have said, it doesn’t nor promote desire, just helps with blood flow to the clitoris (so it can become engorged enough to trigger and orgasm) in women who may be having climax problems due to perimenopause or certain illnesses. As most insurance companies will NOT pay for this… Read more »
Em & Lo

Britni: In Dr. Vanessa’s defense, it was the reader who mentioned Viagra casually and we (Em & Lo) just went with it because we found this funny picture (more ethereal things like libido — or a lackthereof — are hard to illustrate photographically). But thanks for the clarification!


Wellbutrin and its generic, buproprion, can help women with libido issues. It seems that anything that boosts the dopamine increases libido.